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Archive for the ‘Banned Books Week 2010’ Category

BBW Finale: Have you met Karen Yingling yet?

Friday, October 1st, 2010

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world.  BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.  We hope you enjoy reading about these different points of view!  We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our guest today is Karen Yingling, an Ohio middle-school librarian, who also writes a popular blog, Ms. Yingling Reads, about the YA lit she comes across in her quest to read every hardcover fiction book in her library.  Needless to say, at StorySnoops, we are extremely impressed with this challenge, and with her amazing progress!

Welcome Karen!  Thanks for joining us here today.

We understand that the ALA advocates against all forms of censorship, but do you ever feel pressure to withhold certain books from children? If so, where does the pressure come from and how do you deal with the situation?

The pressure comes in the form of a very limited budget, and the necessity to provide books that support the curriculum and are age appropriate. This is why I have been somewhat confused by the recent Ellen Hopkins disinvitation—our 8th grade does have a brief unit on problem novels, but I would not consider her audience to be middle school students. Once I finish buying books for language arts units, nonfiction to support research projects, and topics that my students request to fulfill other reading requirements (like sports, humor, and fantasy books), there isn’t anything left to spend on books written primarily for high school students. It is a hard choice, and I’m sure my views are not shared by all librarians.

Are there any specific sticky situations that you have found yourself in with regard to this issue?

I had a novel about heroin abuse that was very popular with the students after the problem novel unit. There was some bad language, but the message was clearly antidrug. I had a parent go to the principal about it without checking with me. I was told to keep the book on “closed reserve”, which I did. I’m not sure where that book is now—with the renovation, things might have gotten accidentally reshelved. I find that the less fuss I make about books, the fewer problems I have.

In reading the ALA Lists of Banned and Challenged Books, we were surprised by how many of our favorite books are on that list!  Which of these books surprised you the most, and why?

None of them, really. People will complain about anything. I was amused by the brouhaha over Adam Selzer’s How to Get Suspended and Influence People. It actually encouraged one of my teachers who would not read it earlier to pick it up!

On a lighter note, we know you are all about creating an atmosphere that gets middle-schoolers excited about reading—what do they like best about your library?

We were recently renovated, so we are all enjoying the smell of new carpet! The most important thing about my school is that all of the teachers want to make sure that the students have books that they enjoy. Having read widely is very helpful in this regard. Not only am I able to match students up with topics they want to read, but the fact that I can tell students a little about each title and give them something I liked about the book reinforces the concept that reading can be a life long occupation. The students know that I am not asking them to do something that I don’t do!

How are you coming along in your quest to read all of the fiction in your library? How many titles do you figure you’ve read by now?

In the past eight years, I have read over 4,000 books, and since I’ve been an avid reader all of my life, I can’t even begin to guess how many I’ve read altogether. I am coming to the end of my collection—there are a few Lawrence Yep and Jane Yolen titles I have to pick up, and I’ve only read three Erin Hunter books, but since I try to read all books before I buy them, I’m almost caught up!

What are your favorite books of 2010 so far?

On a personal level, I enjoyed Kate Messner’s The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, Leslie Connor’s Crunch, and Sarah Mlynowski’s Gimme a Call. I was very excited about Jason Henderson’s Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising and Stephen Cole’s Z Rex because the students will like them so much.

And just because we’re Snoops, tell us what character you would most like to hang out with for the afternoon.

It would have to be Anne Shirley Blythe from Anne of Green Gables. I would love to sit on the porch at Ingleside having a cup of tea, talking about our children, and then finding some trouble to get into.

Thank you Karen!  Be sure to read more about Karen’s adventures in the library on her blog.

We have had a great time putting together these Banned Books Week interviews, and hope you’ll check out the entire series here, and let us know what you think!

-The Snoops

BBW Day 7: Hear it straight from Ellen Hopkins

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.  We hope you enjoy reading about these different points of view!  We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our guest today is author Ellen Hopkins, the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Crank, Glass, Fallout, Burned, Impulse, Identical and Tricks, among others.  Known for writing primarily in free verse, she tackles controversial teen issues with her distinct voice and style.  Ellen is uniquely qualified to talk about intellectual freedom since she is currently at the center of a censorship controversy.

Welcome, Ellen!

What is your biggest fear about the current censorship debate?

I guess my biggest concern is that some people seem to be confused about what censorship is. It isn’t just banning books. It’s also quieting voices, squelching ideas. Often, it becomes a case of who has the loudest voice, which is why I won’t back away quietly.

How has censorship affected you directly?

I have had many book challenges, and a couple of pulls. And I have been “uninvited” to speak on three occasions now. I find that fascinating, because when I speak to kids I talk about the journey to bestselling author, reaching for your dreams, writing process, poetry, memoir v. fiction, etc. Hardly the stuff of indoctrination.

Which of your controversial topics do people challenge most and are you surprised by this?

Maybe it’s just because it’s been out there the longest, but I think Crank (or maybe its sequel, Glass) has had the most challenges. Yes, I’m surprised by it, because while it is an honest look at the path to addiction, it’s truly a cautionary tale. Mostly I think parents skim through the books, find the f-word, and decide they are inappropriate. But no one parent can be allowed to make that decision for every child.

Why do you feel a sense of responsibility to call attention to the unspoken issues of today’s adolescents?

Because someone has to. The kids who face these issues need a voice, and they need to know they’re not alone. That there’s a way out if they want it, for themselves or someone they love. And kids who aren’t affected directly by these issues need to understand why they happen so they can develop empathy for those whose lives are touched by them.

What is one of the most rewarding comments you’ve received from a troubled teen?

This is representative of many, many:

“I’m honored to get this opportunity to tell you that Crank saved my life, opened my eyes to the world I was exposing myself to and rapidly getting drowned in. And then, two years later it did the very same for my little brother who found it in my moving boxes and read it thinking it was a teen book about kids doing drugs. He was doing meth the night he read it, with his at the time girlfriend. They quit the very next day. Thank you Ellen, you’ve touched our lives forever, and I’ll always be more thankful than you’ll ever know for your books.”

What is your favorite thing to do when you have writer’s block?

I do something physical. Work in the garden. Walk the dogs. Take a swim. When the body works, the brain kicks into gear.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us Ellen.  Check out Ellen’s website for her blog, and more information on her upcoming releases.

Join us tomorrow for our wrap-up interview in this series with Ms. Yingling Reads, middle school librarian and blogger. Click here to see all of our interviews from Banned Books Week.

-The Snoops

BBW Day 6: Meet Carol Rasco, leader extraordinaire of Reading Is Fundamental

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world.  BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.  We hope you enjoy reading about these different points of view!  We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our guest today is Carol H. Rasco, president and chief executive officer of Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF), America’s oldest and largest nonprofit children’s and family literacy organization.  RIF provided 4.4 million children with 15 million new, free books and literacy resources last year through community volunteers in every state and U.S. territory.

For those who aren’t familiar with RIF, please tell us a little about your organization’s mission and programs.

For more than four decades, Reading Is Fundamental has been helping children and youth – birth to eighteen – discover the joy of reading.  Through a partnership with the US Department of Education, RIF serves children who lack books and access to them.  All RIF programs are required to provide children with books from which to choose, encourage family and community involvement, and motivate children to read through fun, literacy-based activities; book distributions normally occur at least three times a year.  RIF also provides the technical assistance needed by the local volunteers to effectively carry out a successful program.

Through private funds, RIF distributes book collections to youth serving organizations, presents training programs for parents and caregivers and maintains an award winning website that is free of charge to children, parents and educators.  At this time RIF is particularly dedicated to a Multicultural Literacy Campaign initiated due to concern for three populations consistently being assessed at lower reading levels than their peers:  African American, Hispanic and American Indian children.

How does the practice of banning books impact your efforts in promoting literacy? Do you ever feel pressure to withhold certain titles from your free book distribution program?

All books distributed through the federally sponsored RIF book distribution program are chosen locally by the RIF programs from one or more of the 100+ RIF authorized vendors; the RIF national office does not select the books for distribution.  Local programs are to establish a book selection committee; and while not dictating the number of members nor the backgrounds of the members, we encourage each local committee to have at least three people named to a committee representing the education, parent and community sectors.  If the RIF program serves older youth, we encourage the inclusion of a young person on the committee as well.

How are authorized vendors chosen?  There are criteria regarding administrative factors as well as an important set of quality standards which are determined with a RIF Literature Advisory Board.  These standards coupled with the critical feature of “local control” described in the preceding paragraph have combined to assist RIF in avoiding any episodes of “banning” to date.  Personally I would be deeply saddened if the local committees found awaiting them a list of banned books by the organization administering the local RIF program; to date that has not been an issue.

What kind of books would you like to see more of for the children you are serving?

Plain and simple: Books written by authors of color, books that involve diversity in characters and more of these books set in the “here and now.”

Many parents who visit our website are particularly interested in motivating a reluctant reader.  Do you have any suggestions for these parents?

As a former elementary school counselor it is in my “counseling DNA” to first always review any medical and/or psychological barriers that may be present if a parent says “reluctant” reader to me.  Vision problems?  Embarrassment over being seen low-reading level books?  Once these factors are eliminated a parent needs to determine if the child is genuinely being allowed to choose her/his own reading material for pleasure reading?  It is absolutely fine if a child wishes to read magazines, graphic novels or comic books, newspapers, on-line books, listen to audio books… build on the type book and the topics that give pleasure and allow the “methods of reading” and topics to expand slowly over time… patience, parents!   Does the child like writing emails to friends and relatives?  If so, start an online chat or book club where short messages are written talking about the book.  Are there 3-4 friends who might choose a piece of reading material together and have a pizza party to talk about it?  The ideas can flow freely if a parent will allow her/himself to stop thinking too traditionally, in other words, the thinking needs to be outside the box, outside the book as most of us “parent” age or older think of a book.

What are your top five favorite books that you personally like to share?

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Thank you Carol!

Be sure to check out Carol Rasco’s blog and the Parents page of the RIF website.  There are many wonderful tips and resources to help parents nurture a love of reading in children of all ages. Also check out the results of a recent study commissioned by RIF to determine the effect of providing access to print materials on children’s educational outcomes.  The results are fascinating!

Join us tomorrow when author Ellen Hopkins stops by!  Click here to see all of our interviews in the Banned Books Week Series.

-The Snoops

BBW Day 5: Meg Cabot has lots to say, and you’ll want to read it here!

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world.  BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.  We hope you enjoy reading about these different points of view!  We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our guest today is Meg Cabot, New York Times bestselling author of over twenty-five series and books for teens, tweens and adults.  Just a few of her many titles are The Princess Diaries, How to be Popular, Airhead, Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls, and her latest release for adults, Insatiable.

Welcome Meg! Thanks for joining us here today.

Hi!  Thanks for having me!

Censorship and banned books are, of course, the topic of the week.  Have you ever been directly affected by censorship?

Well, as someone who grew up in a pretty conservative small town in Indiana (although it had a large college in it), of course there were incidents.  There was a mother (actually the mother of a friend of mine) who tried to get Judy Blume’s Forever banned in our school.  Of course I was the one who brought it to class.  My mom didn’t see what the big deal was.  If you didn’t like Forever, just don’t read it.  Why try to keep everyone else from enjoying it?   So my mom was the big No Book Banning! mom when I was a kid.

Now I am on the board of directors of the Authors Guild, the nation’s leading advocate for writers’ interests in free expression (sometimes working directly with the National Coalition Against Censorship).  Judy Blume is the current vice-president of the Authors Guild!  I know, small world.  She’s so fun.  (We’ve never talked about Forever, but Judy did email my mom once!  Mom was thrilled.

Is there any one title or series of yours that people have taken issue with more than any other?

My books have been challenged numerous times, especially The Princess Diaries series. It always astonishes people to hear this, considering not one of those books contains a single four letter word,  description of a character doing drugs or committing a criminal or violent act, or even having sex.

But because the heroine does, however, occasionally mention the word condom—as in, “In the unlikely case I were ever to have sex, I would use one”—pretty much from the day the Disney movie based on the first book came out, I started getting angry letters from parents who found themselves having to explain to their child what a condom is (although personally, I feel this is a conversation parents SHOULD have with their child, more than once).

I think it’s totally appropriate when I hear someone say “Your book Such and Such has been challenged in Such and Such Elementary School!” when the book is a YA. YA books are not intended for elementary school readers (although it depends on the reader, of course). I started writing a whole series, Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls series, for elementary school readers, just because so many little girls were upset that their moms and big sisters wouldn’t let them read my books for older girls!

It’s when my books for YA readers get challenged in middle and high school libraries, where they belong, that I get a bit nervous.

Have you ever felt pressure to change what you’ve written? What would you say to those who might ask you to change anything about your writing style?

Absolutely. This is a DAILY struggle, and the pressure comes from everywhere (which is why so many authors don’t open their email, because they are constantly being asked—not just by their editors, but by readers—to change their stories). That’s when, as an artist, you are left with a choice: change your story, making it more palatable to more people (so your message will reach further), or keep it as it is, reach less people, but know you stayed true to your own vision. It’s a huge problem, and one every artist, I’m sure, has faced at one time or another.

So, in answer to your question, the most difficult creative challenge for me personally in writing for a younger audience (or any audience, really) is trying to find ways to convey the messages I’m trying to get out to there to the largest number of people possible without getting shut down by The Man.  (I am not sure who He is, but I know He is out there).

But it’s also secretly the part I love most about my job.

And in the meantime, I will continue to work to support other authors in their battle against censorship.

What’s your biggest fear about censorship with regard to young people today?

My biggest fear is that due to a combination of factors—the overprotectiveness of a few; the greed of some; and fear of litigation by many–today’s young people might be kept—through no fault of their own—from ever seeing a lot of really, really good books. Instead,  the majority of them will grow into people who will fear (or fail to understand) anything that might in any way prove to be even the slightest bit edgy, intellectually challenging, or “controversial.”

The reason I say this is because once I got an email from a parent who volunteered in her child’s school library.  She wanted to let me know that she’d found the entire Princess Diaries series in the garbage under the librarian’s desk.  The librarian chose to trash it rather than deal with the hassle of a challenge brought by a parent. I am not saying this happens often.  I worship librarians.   My aunt is a librarian.  I know librarians who would stab you—literally, with a #2 pencil—before they would let you put a book in the trash.

But unfortunately library budgets everywhere are shrinking.  Librarians and media resource specialists are often the first to go when cuts are made.  The few who remain are under enormous pressure.  The last thing they need (or have time for) are book challenges, which can be time consuming (as well as costly, and can draw unwanted press). So who can blame the ones who buckle under the pressure from the higher ups simply to not to order books that might be considered controversial?

This—like throwing books that have been challenged in the trash—is a form of “passive” or “silent censorship.” If the young people never see so-called controversial books at all, neither will their parents.  In this way, the books will never be read, nor will their content ever be challenged.

Some websites (not this one!) that “warn” about potentially “controversial” material in books are now encouraging schools, teachers, and librarians to use their services when ordering their books to stock their shelves.  In this way, they can help keep these “harmful” books out of their classrooms, libraries, and even students’ homes.

These are websites that often don’t bother listing any “good stuff” at all about many of my favorite books, just the so-called “bad stuff.” The alleged “experts” who “rate” these books for age-appropriateness are oftentimes not “experts” in the field of children’s literature at all, with no traceable credentials whatsoever, whose reviews are riddled with factual errors. These websites claim this isn’t censorship, but simply “good parenting,” sanity, or even common sense.

This is probably what that librarian called it, when she put my books in the trash can.

So that’s what I’m most afraid of: An entire generation that has never been allowed to decide for themselves what’s “good stuff” and what’s “bad stuff” by a group of so-called concerned parents, educators, and “experts.”

Why let children (and teens) think at all?  Let’s just do their thinking for them by keeping books off the shelves entirely.  Books are so dangerous!  Just like thinking.

Enough serious stuff—we’re sure this almost never happens to you, but what is your favorite remedy for writer’s block?

Well, this does happen to me, and my favorite remedy is, of course, M&Ms.  But this doesn’t actually work.  What DOES work for me is a vigorous bike ride or swim or some form of exercise (even housework, ugh), then watching a movie and sleeping on it.  Usually when I wake up, the problem has somehow untangled itself while I’ve slept, and I know how to fix it.  Or not.  Repeat as necessary, sometimes for weeks.

Does your husband find your sassy sense of humor as charming as we do?

Well, thanks, but I’m not sure sassy is the word he’d use.

And because we are Snoops and we’ve heard you do all of your editing in bed:  we have to know—sweats or silky jammies?

Oh!  I wish I had silky jammies!  Now that you’re mentioning it, I’ve just realized . . . I don’t have a single pair!  I don’t know why.  Unfortunately the answer is sweats (or really, yoga pants, how unglamorous).  But I’m going to go Victoria’s Secret RIGHT NOW to rectify that!

Bye, and thanks.  StorySnoops rocks!

Love,

Meg

Thank you so much, Meg!  Check out Meg’s site for her latest releases, and the latest on her blog.

Join us tomorrow when Carol Rasco from Reading Is Fundamental stops by!  Click here to see all of our interviews in the Banned Books Week Series.

-The Snoops

BBW Day 4: Meet our friend Abby the Librarian!

Monday, September 27th, 2010

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world.  BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.  We hope you enjoy reading about these different points of view!  We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our guest today is Abby the Librarian. She is a youth librarian by day and cyber-celebrity blogger by night! In addition to managing the Children’s Department at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library in New Albany, IN, she has her own wildly popular blog, where she dishes on all things kidlit related.

Thanks for joining us here, today, Abby. We’re so glad to have you.

Glad to be here today! Thanks for having me!

We understand that the ALA advocates against all forms of censorship, but do you ever feel pressure to withhold certain books from children? If so, where does the pressure come from and how do you deal with the situation?

I wouldn’t say that I feel pressure to withhold certain titles, but for me it’s more a matter of deciding where in the collection different books are going to go.  My department serves children from birth through fifth grade, which encompasses a large range of reading levels and content.  I definitely have to strike a balance – I want to have the books that kids are asking for, but I have to be careful that the content and language are appropriate for an elementary-school audience as opposed to a middle- or high-school audience.  It can be a difficult balance to find and I definitely rely on professional reviews to help make my decisions about ordering book.  If I feel that a book will be more appropriate in our teen area, I may recommend that our teen librarian consider the book for purchase.  We may get nine-year-olds asking for Twilight and, while it’s not up to me to decide whether or not they are ready to read it, I’m not going to purchase it for the Children’s Department.  (Incidentally, we do have all the Twilight books in our Teen area!)

Are there any specific sticky situations that you have found yourself in with regard to this issue?

I once had a parent who told us we shouldn’t have a biography of Madonna on the shelves because we should only have biographies of “good people”.  And I’ve had a few parents express concern about books that their children had picked up that they felt should be shelved in a different section (i.e. that certain picture books should be shelves with the books for older children, that books about changing bodies and sexuality shouldn’t be in the children’s nonfiction, etc.).  I take every concern from parents seriously.  I strongly believe in every parent’s right to choose the content that is appropriate for his or her child, which is why I encourage parents to be actively involved in their child’s reading life.  I believe just as strongly that no one should have the right to choose what books a child has access to except the child and his or her caregivers.  Just because a book is inappropriate for one child does not mean that it is inappropriate for every child.

In reading the ALA Lists of Banned and Challenged Books, we were surprised by how many of our favorite books are on that list! Which of these books surprised you the most, and why?

I’ll tell you one book that surprised me was Draw Me a Star by Eric Carle.  I was actually collecting books for a Banned Books Week display we’re going to do at my library, so I was going through the list and pulling books and I saw that book on the list.  And I thought to myself, “Someone challenged ERIC CARLE?!  What could possibly be objectionable in an Eric Carle book?!”  Once I picked up the book and flipped through it, I found that one of the illustrated spreads depicts a very non-detailed nude picture of a woman and a man.  And I was like, “Ohhhhh, okay.”  I also find it interesting that the Junie B. Jones books are on the list.  I understand that some parents feel that the books encourage poor behavior (and also possibly bad grammar?) in children, but I think that’s a really fun series.

On a lighter note…we get many requests from parents wanting recommendations for their reluctant readers or tween girls who are “reading up.”  Do you have some go-to suggestions for these parents?

I love the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series for reluctant readers.  The books are action-packed and our kids and teens at the library can’t get enough of them.  Also, the Skeleton Creek series by Patrick Carman is a great choice for some reluctant readers because it combines text and online videos in a way that’s really neat.  Of course the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books fly off our shelves, and kids who love those books may also love Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russo and Big Nate by Lincoln Pierce.

For tween girls who are “reading up”, I’d recommend the Students Across the Seven Seas series (they’re by various authors).  It’s a really fun series, each about a high school girl who spends the summer abroad in a different country.  They combine gentle romance with great descriptions of foreign countries.  I’m also a huge fan of Dairy Queen by Catherine Murdock and its sequels.  It’s a great story with wonderful characters and a lot of heart.  And here’s an oldie but a goodie – Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster.  I feel like not enough people know about this classic book about an orphan girl going off to college in the early 20th century.  I loved it as a kid and I love it as an adult, too!

Other than your job, what is it about kidlit that is so compelling to you?

This has been going around the kidlitosphere lately, but I have to reiterate what I believe Holly Black said first – YA (and, I’d venture, kidlit) is all about firsts.  Reading kidlit is experiencing things again for the first time – the first day of middle school, your first crush, the first time a friend betrays you.  Reading kidlit and YA is a way to keep myself connected to that kid and teen I used to be, to keep remembering what it’s like to look at the world as fresh and full of possibilities and exciting and new.

Not to mention the fact that there are oh-so-very-many freakin’ talented people writing kidlit and YA right now.  Frankly, anyone who’s not reading kidlit is missing out on a lot of great stuff, I don’t care how old you are!

What are your favorite books of 2010 so far?

I love this question! I have read some great 2010 books and you should *all* read them, too!

Dark Life by Kat Falls is a speculative novel where global warming has caused the oceans to expand, making solid land a commodity.  So people live in these crazy high-rise apartments, all crammed in there on the land…only some people have become pioneers who ventured under the sea and live in communities under the ocean.  I love it because the world is so finely crafted and the action is non-stop.  I definitely did not want to put it down!

Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson is a road-trip story with a ton of heart and really great playlists.  After the death of her father, Amy has to drive across the country to join her mom who’s moved to Connecticut.  Only, after the accident, Amy doesn’t drive, so Roger, a family friend who we find out is dealing with some issues of his own, drives her.  Almost immediately the two of them throw out the carefully planned itinerary and set off to have a grand adventure and possibly find a way to heal their grief.

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord is my Newbery pick this year (so far, anyway).  It’s about a girl who lives on this teeny tiny island off the coast of Maine.  So few people live there, in fact, that the state’s decided to close their school, forcing families to move to the mainland.  But the town has a plan – they’ll take in foster kids in order to increase the number of school kids and save their village.  Eleven-year-old Tess is really excited – sure that their “orphan” will be just like Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables – but when their foster kid, Aaron, arrives, he’s not at all what Tess expects…

The Hive Detectives by Loree Griffin Burns is a new book in the Scientists in the Field series and it’s all about honeybees and the mystery of what’s killing them.  I really have a phobia about insects (in particular insects that can sting or bite you) and The Hive Detectives actually managed to make bees interesting and appealing.  The format of the book, a mix of straight text and field journals, accompanied by great photos, makes this a really eye-catching read.

And just because we’re Snoops, tell us what character you would most like to hang out with for the afternoon.

I would love to spend an afternoon with Mattie Gokey from Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light.  Mattie and I would sit in the shade at her upstate New York resort and talk about books and eat berries.  And it would be fabulous!

Thanks so much for having me!

Thank you so much, Abby. If you would like to read more about Abby, please visit her fantastic blog at www.abbythelibrarian.com.

Join us tomorrow when author Meg Cabot stops by!  Click here to see all of our interviews in the Banned Books Week Series.

-The Snoops

BBW Day 3: Judy Blume visits StorySnoops today!

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world.  BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.  We hope you enjoy reading about these different points of view!  We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our guest today is beloved author Judy Blume.  More than 80 million copies of her books have been sold and her works have been translated into 31 languages.  This highly acclaimed writer is the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Library of Congress Living Legends Award, and the 2004 National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.  Judy is one of the most frequently banned writers in America, having found herself in the middle of an organized book banning campaign in the 1980s.  Since then she has championed intellectual freedom, working with the National Coalition Against Censorship to protect the freedom to read.

Judy asked that we use some of her previously released statements as answers to two of these questions.  However, we are snoopy Snoops and just had to throw a couple of extras in there for her!

What effect does a censorship climate have on a writer?

Chilling. It’s easy to become discouraged, to second-guess everything you write.  I’ve never forgiven myself for caving in to editorial pressure based on fear, for playing into the hands of the censors. I knew then it was all over for me unless I took a stand. So I began to speak out about my experiences. And once I did, I found that I wasn’t as alone as I’d thought.

You must have been surprised when people began to take issue with your themes about real-life adolescent experiences.

I wrote Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret right out of my own experiences and feelings when I was in sixth grade. Controversy wasn’t on my mind. I wanted only to write what I knew to be true. I wanted to write the best, the most honest books I could, the kinds of books I would have liked to read when I was younger. If someone had told me then I would become one of the most banned writers in America, I’d have laughed.

What’s your biggest fear about censorship with regard to young people today?

What I worry about most is the loss to young people.  Some people would like to rate books in schools and libraries the way they rate movies: G, PG, R, X, or even more explicitly. But according to whose standards would the books be rated? I don’t know about you but I don’t want anyone rating my books or the books my children or grandchildren choose to read. We can make our own decisions, thank you. Browsing at the library or in the books on our shelves at home, allowed me to find and read books I can still recall, books I might otherwise never have read.  I’m thankful my parents encouraged me to read.  Reading was a good thing in our family, not something my parents feared.

We have always wondered how you could possibly understand exactly what we all felt and experienced as young girls, both spoken and unspoken.  How do you do this?

I can’t explain it.  It’s just something I can do.  I know that’s not a satisfying answer — maybe it’s that I identify so closely with kids, am able to connect one-on-one with them.  Does it have to do with my ability to remember my own childhood so vividly?  I’m sure that’s part of it.  It’s just such a part of me I don’t question it.

Thanks for taking a few minutes with us, Judy!

Judy continues to write for young adults.  A film version of Tiger Eyes is tentatively scheduled to start shooting in October.  Keep an eye out for it in theaters!

Join us again tomorrow when Abby the Librarian stops by. Click here to see all of our interviews in the Banned Books Week series.

-The Snoops

BBW Day 1: We introduce you to the Mighty Little Librarian…read on!

Friday, September 24th, 2010

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world.  BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.  We hope you enjoy reading about these different points of view!  We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our first guest is Tiffany Whitehead, author of the Mighty Little Librarian blog. When Tiffany is not blogging and tweeting about children’s literature, you can find her at her day job as an elementary school librarian in South Louisiana.

We understand that the ALA advocates against all forms of censorship, but do you ever feel pressure to withhold certain books from children? If so, where does the pressure come from and how do you deal with the situation?

I live and work in a very conservative small town in South Louisiana. My library serves 600 second and third grade students. Regardless of my personal views, I have to take my demographic and their needs into account during the selection process. I feel that it is my responsibility as a librarian to provide my students with a wide range of age-appropriate reading material, and I purchase a variety of books according to the interests and reading abilities of my students.

In my two years in the library, I have not had pressure to withhold any books from my students. I think that by being very aware and thoughtful when managing the collection, I am able to avoid censorship issues that arise from instances with books that aren’t age appropriate for certain students. I also know that the age I work with has far fewer censorship cases than older students, and having only two grade levels allows my collection to be extremely focused to their maturity level.

Are there any specific sticky situations that you have found yourself in with regard to this issue?

I had a little incident with Eric Carle’s book Draw Me a Star. This book contains an illustration of a nude man and woman. If you’ve read this book, you know it’s a tasteful and fairly abstract illustration. One of my students felt the need to add some details to the picture. Because the book was “edited”, I removed it from the collection. I have an abundance of other Eric Carle books, so that particular title has not needed to be replaced.

I also had a student return the book Just the Two of Us by Will Smith because their parent didn’t want them to read it. I checked it in and helped her find another book. I believe that it is a parent’s right and responsibility to monitor what their child is reading and help them make choices that they feel are appropriate. I always applaud parents who are involved in what their children are reading. Even if I disagree personally with their choices, I am grateful when a situation like that is handled in a reasonable way as this one!

In reading the ALA Lists of Banned and Challenged Books, we were surprised by how many of our favorite books are on that list! Which of these books surprised you the most, and why?

It kills me that The Giver by Lois Lowry is such a frequently challenged book! When I read that book as a child, it introduced me to the science fiction/dystopia genre and I LOVED it. That is still one of my favorite genres and I will always love The Giver for giving me that first taste. When books like this one are banned or challenged, students may not only miss out on that particular book but also the opportunity to discover a favorite genre!

Other than your job, what is it about kidlit that is so compelling to you?

I find that it’s so easy to relate to and connect with the characters in children’s and young adult literature. It’s so easy to get absorbed into the lives of the characters. You can relate to their emotions and remember how you felt at that age. I always come away from these books feeling like I’ve made a new friend and gotten to know a new person. Plus, it helps me connect more with the kids I teach when I read kidlit, relate to the characters, and remember my younger self.

What are your favorite books of 2010 so far?

I am obsessed with the Hunger Games series. I picked up Hunger Games for the first time about a month ago and have kicking myself for not reading it sooner ever since. Catching Fire and Mockingjay are incredible additions to the series. The storyline, the characters, the genre — I absolutely love everything about these wonderfully written books and I’m recommending them to everyone I know.

And just because we’re Snoops, tell us what character you would most like to hang out with for the afternoon.


Hermione Granger! I’m a Harry Potter fanatic and Hermione is the character that I can relate to best. I love her spunk and her smarty-pants attitude. And I would love to spend the afternoon hearing all of the juicy gossip about the things that happened at Hogwarts.

Thanks for stopping by, Tiffany, and sharing your experiences with us!  To follow Tiffany’s library adventures, check out her blog.

Join us Monday to hear from Judy Blume, who is no stranger to the topic of censorship.

-The Snoops

Super Scoop Friday–The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Banned Books Week begins tomorrow!  Check back here for our BBW Interview series…
I am so excited to share one of my favorite books with you this week.  Although it has a loyal following, many people have not heard of this highly decorated book.  Could it be because The Perks of Being a Wallflower (POBAW) is one of the most frequently challenged books of the past decade? Perhaps. 

The story unfolds in letters written by protagonist Charlie to a mystery person during the course of his freshman year of high school.  Charlie, an introvert, has been prone to bouts of depression and anxiety ever since the death of his favorite aunt many years ago.  After Charlie’s one and only friend commits suicide, Charlie must face the scary halls of his new school alone, shy and grieving.

While Charlie does not speak much and prefers to be a “wallflower,” he is a keen observer.  His reflections are honest, sensitive, and for the most part, without agenda or bias.  Still, he is tremendously perplexed by life.  Because he has always focused on those around him, Charlie understands shockingly little about himself.

But all this is about to change.  When a teacher recognizes the genius in Charlie, he refuses to let him continue through life as a passive observer.  In addition to assigning extra books packed with lessons about living life, the teacher encourages Charlie to interact with others.  After Charlie meets popular Samantha and Patrick, they soon discover that there is much more to this overlooked wallflower than meets they eye.  With their guidance, Charlie begins to meet more people and have new experiences he never even imagined.  Once Charlie begins to truly live his life with passion, he is able to make friends, enrich his family relationships, and come to terms with some very big issues.
What makes this book a masterpiece (in my opinion!) is its accurate portrayal of adolescence through Charlie’s eyes.  His observations are so honest that they seem almost childlike and at times, achingly beautiful. While there are some teen books in which the author artificially injects controversial scenes just for shock value, this is not one of those books (but those shouldn’t be banned either!).  Content that is “objectionable” should be considered within the context of the story.  For example, teens in POBAW do experiment with drugs and alcohol, but this behavior is far from glorified and some tragic consequences occur as a result. Taking things out of context is a dangerous thing — you kind of miss the big picture.
Pulling this book off the shelves eliminates the opportunity for young readers to learn from Charlie’s open-minded observations about other people’s struggles; his sister’s struggle to respect herself, a friend’s struggle to be accepted as a homosexual, his parents’ struggle not to pass on the mistakes their own parents made.  The importance of being loved and accepted for who you are is a universal theme that any one of us can relate to, boy or girl, teen or adult, wallflower or not.  After all, don’t we want our teens to be reading books they can relate to?  Not only will they be more interested, they may also absorb valuable lessons that could help move their lives forward in a positive direction.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a well-written, empathetic account of an outcast’s first year of high school, which, by the way, turns out well and has a happy ending in which Charlie triumphs.  Isn’t that exactly what we want our kids to be reading?  But even if it’s not, please don’t make that choice for me.

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Please join StorySnoops in support of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, tomorrow, September 25th!  We are so excited to announce that our site will be running an interview series all week.  Our guests will include blogging librarians Abby the Librarian, Mighty Little Librarian and Ms. Yingling Reads, plus Reading Is Fundamental President and CEO Carol Rasco. And don’t miss three of our favorite authors who have graciously agreed to share their thoughts: Ellen Hopkins, Meg Cabot and Judy Blume! Stay tuned!

Super Scoop Friday–Whale Talk

Friday, September 17th, 2010

The countdown to Banned Books Week continues…

Wow. Where to begin? This book absolutely blew me away. Whale Talk is incredibly meaty and loaded with powerful messages. Subject matter is extremely mature, but for those who are able to handle it, it is moving to the point of tears. The basic storyline is that the newly formed Cutter High School swim team, the All Night Mermen, is an eclectic group with no pool and only their leader, T.J. Jones, is really a swimmer. Resourcefulness, determination and dedication lead them on their quest to prove a lot of people wrong and to obtain the coveted varsity letter jacket.

Now I love nothing more than to root for the underdog, and those that comprise the Cutter High swim team absolutely define underdog. Misfits and outcasts alike, the team consists of: “one swimmer of color, a representative from each extreme of the educational spectrum, a muscle man, a giant, a chameleon, and a one-legged psychopath.” These boys are all in one way or another damaged, furious, withdrawn or victimized. The fact that they come together in friendship, respect and trust, while working toward and achieving a common goal is astonishing and incredibly rewarding.

This book is about sports, racism, child abuse, bullying, ignorance, camaraderie, family, integrity and so much more. Whale Talk is on the frequently challenged/banned book list for racial slurs and profanity, and while yes, those words are all in this book, they are rather instrumental to the raw and edgy tale where the ultimate message is that racism is ignorance. I loved this quote: “Georgia’s right about bigotry: that absent the element of hate, a person’s skin color is only an indication of his or her geographical ancestry. But with that element, it is a soul stealer.”

There are numerous parts of this story that are absolutely brutal to read. Vicious and extreme child abuse is truly heartbreaking and a beloved character’s death is both tragic and poignant. This book is bursting with discussion material and would make for an excellent teen book club selection, as there is so much to talk about with regard to decency and how people deserve to be treated. Like so many of the frequently challenged/banned YA books, this book is controversial and heavy, but in the right hands it has the potential to be both eye-opening and life-changing.

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

Please join StorySnoops in support of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, September 25th-October 2nd.  We are so excited to announce that our site will be running an interview series all week.  Our guests will include blogging librarians Abby the Librarian, Mighty Little Librarian and Ms. Yingling Reads, plus Reading Is Fundamental President and CEO Carol Rasco. And don’t miss three of our favorite authors who have graciously agreed to share their thoughts: Ellen Hopkins, Meg Cabot and Judy Blume! Stay tuned!

Super Scoop Friday–The Giver

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

The countdown to Banned Books Week begins!

In the spirit of the American Library Association’s upcoming Banned Books Week, I recently picked up The Giver, by Lois Lowry, to see what all of the fuss was about.  Surprisingly, this highly decorated book that is frequently taught in schools is also one of the Top 100 Banned or Challenged Books of the last decade for “being sexually explicit,” and having “occult themes and violence.”

In The Giver, eleven-year-old Jonas lives in a community that is completely controlled.  Residents are assigned jobs, spouses, and even children, who are given birth outside of the family by women who are designated to do so. The ultimate goal of the community is “sameness” — but this means that no one has freedom of choice.  When Jonas turns twelve, he is selected for the most honored job in the community, the Receiver of Memory.  Jonas’ predecessor, the Giver, is the community’s sole keeper of life’s memories, which allows the residents to live free of anguish.  When these memories are transmitted to Jonas, he finds that he is unable to accept the truth that comes with them.

This award-winning story is compelling and thought provoking.  As memories are transferred to Jonas, he begins to question the world around him and whether eliminating the freedom to make choices is such a good thing.  The book provides many opportunities to discuss the pitfalls of too much conformity in society, and what it would be like to have every choice made for you.

One challenged theme in The Giver is the community’s custom of “release,” which is used frequently with the elderly, rule-breakers, and newborns that are less than ideal.  Residents have no idea that when a person is “released,” they are actually euthanized by lethal injection.  When this information is transmitted to Jonas, the realization is almost unbearable because his father has “released” many newborns in his job as “Nurturer.”  This subject matter provides an excellent opportunity for young people to form their own beliefs about such practices.

Jonas also discovers that the last Receiver of Memory-in-training (the Giver’s daughter) chose to be released by injecting herself after learning the truth about the community.  While some have argued that The Giver portrays suicide as a viable option for dealing with despair, Jonas’ own actions are an excellent example of how there are always alternatives to suicide.

The fact that the book has been challenged for being sexually explicit is somewhat surprising since there is virtually no sexual content.  Each resident of the community is given daily medication to eliminate “stirrings” at the onset of sexual thoughts or feelings, so sexuality is not a part of their lives.

After reading The Giver, it is almost impossible to miss the irony.  In the past decade, there have been many attempts to control access to a book that eloquently illustrates the danger of too much control in society.  Personally, I’m with Jonas.  A society that allows people to have freedom of choice is a much better place.

-Jen, StorySnoop

Please join StorySnoops in support of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, September 25th-October 2nd.  We are so excited to announce that our site will be running an interview series all week.  Our guests will include blogging librarians Abby the Librarian, Mighty Little Librarian and Ms. Yingling Reads, plus Reading Is Fundamental President and CEO Carol Rasco. And don’t miss three of our favorite authors who have graciously agreed to share their thoughts: Ellen Hopkins, Meg Cabot and Judy Blume! Stay tuned!